South Florida: Heat and Panthers play for titles, plus arrival of soccer star Lionel Messi

Rishabh Goel, left, and siblings Karishma, center, and Sid Chadha, Miami Heat fans from New Jersey, wait to enter the arena for Game 3 of the NBA Finals basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Wednesday in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

SUNRISE, Fla. — South Florida was already throwing a smashing sports party. And then Lionel Messi decided to join the fun.

The Miami Heat are in the NBA Finals, the Florida Panthers are in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Final and the area is hosting championship-series games four nights in a row.


During that unprecedented stretch, Messi announced he’s going to sign with Inter Miami of Major League Soccer, and for good measure the Marlins are surprisingly in second place two months into the baseball season with Luis Arraez hitting over .400.

All this after the F1 Miami Grand Prix and NHL All-Star weekend were staged in South Florida, the sudden center of the sports universe. It also had two teams in college basketball’s Final Four, a women’s team in the Elite Eight and the Division II national champions in men’s basketball.

“I’m so excited for the city of Miami, to be able to have a player of that caliber here,” said Heat star Jimmy Butler, who has often said soccer — he calls it futbol — is his favorite sport. “I’m excited for the city of Miami in so many different ways. Obviously, us being in the finals and having an opportunity to do something special. Now that he is here, I think all the futbol-slash-soccer fans from all over the world are going to come here and get an opportunity to watch him compete. I’m glad he is here.”

Some of it is coincidental, but certainly not all of it. Florida having no state income tax makes the contracts signed by Messi, Jimmy Butler and Matthew Tkachuk worth more than in many other places, and it plays a role in elite athletes wanting to call the state home.

“Every now and then all the stars are aligned,” said Ed Schauder, a sports and entertainment lawyer who now lives in Florida.

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